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How I Got This Way

Ken Begley

THIS IS MY FIRST article for HumbleDollar. I’m new to the site, but not new to writing for the public and, indeed, I’ve contributed regular columns to some small newspapers.

My life has had more twists and turns than going down a Kentucky country back road filled with hillbillies, of which I am one. Kentucky is either the poorest state in the country or next to it by any measure you want to look at. Still, at age 65, I feel like I’ve had a rich life and done it all.

I’m a husband and father of five. I’ve also had chronic health issues for 30 years. We’ve had family members struggle with depression. We suffered through relatively low-paying jobs with multiple employers that either had massive cutbacks, spinoffs or straight up went bankrupt.

Yet our family has survived and at times thrived. I was never unemployed and sometimes held up to three jobs at once. But I sure had a lot of jobs I didn’t like. Still, it all paid off.

In fact, I retired at 59, and my wife and I are financially secure. Three of our children became civil engineers, one a mechanical engineer and another an elementary school teacher. All graduated college with no student loans and some with substantial bank accounts. The youngest graduated this May. They still have their problems, but at least money hasn’t been one of them.

How did this happen? It’s not hard for me to pinpoint the biggest reason.

The life experiences of my parents resulted in who we became. My mother was raised by a farmer and grain mill worker during the Great Depression. She was one of 11 kids. My maternal grandfather was in the army in World War I and served in France. He lost a hand in a mill accident and later his wife when she was age 47. They had four sons in World War II at the same time. My grandfather did more with one hand than most people do with two.

My father was one of six children. Dad served in World War II and had a brother-in-law who was captured at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa. That uncle became a prisoner of war for about 24 months. My dad’s brother was the mortar platoon leader at Pork Chop Hill, which was overrun during the Korean War.

Dad opened his own business after the war selling radios, televisions and furniture. He was a heck of a salesman. My mom raised us kids and ran a small business out of the house as a seamstress making clothes and doing alterations. They were both workaholics because they had to be for their growing family.

As a child, I learned pretty quickly that, if you thought life was unfair or you were overworked, you better not complain to our parents. They were too busy to listen and, in any case, they weren’t having any of it.

One thing they did for us: get us jobs at an early age. I’m proud to say that I was the youngest one put out on his own. This is what defined me and set me up for the rest of my life. I had a paper route at age 10.

Those newspapers were delivered seven days a week, 365 days a year through rain, sleet and snow. I had to collect the bill from the customers and then make my way to the post office to get a postal money order, so I could pay the newspaper each Saturday.

I had a flat tire and learned my first lesson shortly after I began my “employment” as a paperboy. The inner tube was shot. I went down to the local hardware store and bought a replacement. Afterwards, I went to my father’s store and stuck out my hand, telling him the situation and expecting reimbursement. My dad hemmed and hawed, mumbling something about how I had a job now, but eventually he gave me the money.

I was clueless as to what had just happened until my older brother filled me in. He said, “Kenny, you work now, so you can’t ask Daddy for anything anymore. You have to pay for it yourself.” I had committed a breach of etiquette, but accepted this news because my older brother was my idol. He was just looking out for me by telling me my mistake. My second lesson: Don’t be offended when good people tell you what you’re doing wrong.

I never asked Daddy or Momma for anything again, and I learned that I needed to be independent. Yes, I was on my own.

Those papers were delivered to the poorest section of town and to the housing projects. The third lesson from the paper route: While money won’t buy you happiness, the lack of money certainly buys you misery. You don’t want to end up like some of my then customers. They call it work because it can be unpleasant, but I learned from my customers that there were other things there were even more unpleasant than work.

There are lots of stories from that paper route to the present day, with lots of success and maybe even more failures. I hope to relate them all on this website. I sure would like to help somebody the way my brother helped me so many years ago.

Ken Begley has worked for the IRS and as an accountant, a college director of student financial aid and a newspaper columnist, and he also spent 42 years on active and reserve service with the U.S. Navy and Army. Now retired, Ken likes to spend his time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and as a volunteer with Kentucky’s Marion County Veterans Honor Guard performing last rites at military funerals, including more than 350 during the past three years.

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